Recorded Crime in Scotland, 2021-2022

Statistics on crimes and offences recorded and cleared up by the police in Scotland in 2021-22, split by crime or offence group and by local authority.

This document is part of a collection


This bulletin presents statistics on the number of crimes and offences recorded by Police Scotland. These are derived from data held within the Source for Evidence Based Policing (SEBP), a data repository used and maintained by Police Scotland.

What changes were made to this year’s report?

Changes have been made to this year’s report as follows:

Further information on the new crime grouping structure and legislative changes can be found in Annex 3, Annex 5 and in the User Guide.

What is Recorded Crime?

Recorded crime covers crimes which are recorded by the police. Crimes and offences recorded by the police do not reveal the incidence of all crime committed since not all crimes are reported to, and therefore recorded by, the police. However, they do provide a measure of the volume of criminal activity with which the police are faced.

What is the difference between crimes and offences?

Contraventions of Scottish criminal law are divided for statistical purposes into crimes and offences. The term “crime” is generally used for the more serious criminal acts. The less serious are termed “offences”. The distinction is made only for statistical reporting purposes and has no impact on how the police investigate reports of criminal activity. The “seriousness” of the offence is generally related to the maximum sentence that can be imposed. This distinction has been consistently used in the Recorded Crime in Scotland bulletins since publication began in 1983 and, prior to this, in the Criminal statistics publication dating back to the 1920s.

A further distinction, although not absolute, is that the number of offences recorded by the police generally tends to be affected more by police activity and operational decisions than the numbers of crimes.

As highlighted above, a new crime and offence grouping structure is used in this bulletin. This was approved by the Scottish Crime Recording Board (SCRB) following a public consultation of users. Annex 5 gives an overview of these changes and their impact on the statistics presented in this publication. The User Guide also provides further information.

There are over 500 types of crimes and offences recorded by police in Scotland. To present these in a meaningful way, they are combined into distinct groups and categories. There are now six crime groups and three offence groups. These groups are made up of 50 categories, referred to as the ‘Top 50’.

Figure 1: Breakdown of crime and offence groups

  • Crimes
    • Non-sexual crimes of violence
    • Sexual crimes
    • Crimes of dishonesty
    • Damage and reckless behaviour
    • Crimes against society
    • Coronavirus restriction crimes (new group since 2019-20)
  • Offences
    • Antisocial offences
    • Miscellaneous offences
    • Road traffic offences

What changes were made to the recording of crime in recent years?

There have been several changes in recent years that have had an impact on the recording of crime. These reflect either the enactment of new legislation or procedural changes made by the SCRB (Annex 3). Changes that have occurred in the latest five years (2017-18 to 2021-22) include:

  • A procedural change to the counting of crimes of Handling an offensive weapon, from 1 April 2017
  • An amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, which classified Etizolam as a Class C drug, from May 2017 (estimated to account for 14% of Drugs – Possession crime in 2019-20[1])
  • The implementation of the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016, which came into effect from 3 July 2017
  • The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, which came into force on 1 April 2019
  • The Coronavirus Act 2020 and Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020, implemented on 25 March and 27 March 2020 respectively
  • A procedural change made to the recording of international crime, from 1 April 2020
  • The implementation of the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Act 2021, which came into effect from 24 August 2021

Some of the above amendments led to changes in how crimes are recorded but did not change the volume of crime being recorded. For example, before implementation of the Protection of Workers Act, any assault of a retail worker would have been recorded as either a Common or Serious assault. After implementation, such cases are now specifically recorded as either Common or Serious assault of a retail worker. In another example, some incidents that were recorded as Stalking prior to the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 coming into force, may now be recorded as crimes under the Domestic Abuse Act.

Other amendments did result in new and additional crimes being recorded within these statistics, following their implementation. For the 2021-22 reporting year, the most significant by volume were the 2017 changes to recording crimes of Handling an offensive weapon (5,888 cases). Almost four thousand crimes were also recorded under the Coronavirus related legislation, introduced in 2020.

Information on the recording of crimes affected by the above changes is provided in the relevant chapters of this bulletin. The User Guide provides more detailed information on these and earlier changes to the recording of crime.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted recorded crime?

The nationwide lockdowns and other measures put in place to limit social contact during the COVID-19 pandemic are very likely to have had a significant impact on the type and volume of crime recorded throughout this period. The largest impact was seen during 2020-21, with 2021-22 also likely to be affected, albeit to a lesser extent. However, some caution is advised before necessarily attributing all of the changes to this situation. For example, longer term trends in some types of offending, which existed prior to the pandemic, may remain a factor.

This year’s bulletin contains a number of crimes relating to Coronavirus restrictions, which were recorded under specific Coronavirus legislation. There were 3,913 such crimes recorded in 2021-22, a significant reduction from 20,976 in 2020-21. These crimes are included within the total recorded crime figure for Scotland, though are presented separately to the five main crime groups.

How do Recorded Crime statistics compare to the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey?

The other main source of crime statistics in Scotland is the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS), a national survey of adults (aged 16 and over) living in private households, which asks respondents about their experiences and perceptions of crime.

The survey provides a complementary measure of crime to police recorded crime statistics and allows a wider assessment of the overall level of crime victimisation, its characteristics, and likelihood of experiencing crime. The SCJS estimates that 40% of all SCJS crime in 2019-20 came to the attention of the police, a proportion which is stable over time. This confirms that not all crimes are reported to, and therefore recorded by, the police.

Data for 2019-20 is the latest available from the SCJS, due to face-to-face interviewing being paused in March 2020 to support social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Both the SCJS and police recorded crime show a long term downward trend in overall comparable crime, with a more stable pattern over the shorter term. Specifically, the survey found that the volume of crime in Scotland, including incidents not reported to the police, fell by 46% since 2008-09 (from an estimated 1,045,000 incidents to 563,000 by 2019-20) and has remained stable compared to 2018-19. Similarly, crimes recorded by the police in 2019-20 decreased by 35% since 2008-09, and remained stable compared to 2018-19.

To fill the evidence gap created by the SCJS suspension, previous respondents to the SCJS were re-contacted by phone for a one-off survey of experiences and perceptions of crime, safety and policing in Scotland during the pandemic – the Scottish Victimisation Telephone Survey (SVTS) 2020. Further detail on the analytical comparisons between recorded crime, the SVTS and the SCJS is provided in Chapter 5 of the previous 2020-21 Recorded Crime in Scotland bulletin.

Future Recorded Crime in Scotland bulletins will provide updated comparisons with SCJS findings when these become available.

The User Guide provides an overview of the main differences users may want to note when making comparisons between Recorded Crime statistics and the SCJS.

What comparisons can be made with other data sources?

When considering crime data across the UK, recorded crime statistics for England & Wales and Northern Ireland are not directly comparable with those in Scotland. The main principles for when a crime should be recorded are similar in all four nations. However there are various differences between the respective Counting Rules, which specify each nation’s approach for counting the number of crimes that should be recorded as part of any single incident. Furthermore, differences in legislation and common law also have an impact on the comparability of recorded crime statistics between Scotland and the other UK nations.

Further detail on the comparability of crime data can be found in the User Guide.

Some ‘Data comparisons’ are presented within this bulletin. These are clearly marked throughout the text and include information from a range of statistics (e.g. homicide, hospital admissions etc.) which cannot be directly compared to police recorded crime but are useful to understand the wider context.

Where can you find the data from this report?

All tables referred to throughout the bulletin are available in the 'Supporting documents' Excel workbook. The workbook includes an ‘Introduction’ sheet, with information on how to navigate the tables, alongside a ‘Notes’ sheet, with relevant details to assist users when reading and interpreting results. The Excel workbook mostly covers data for the last ten years.

The data is also available on : Recorded Crimes and Offences and : Crime Clear up Rates. These include data back to 1996-97.

What is known about the quality of this data?

Annex 2 provides information on the quality of the data used to produce the statistics presented in this bulletin. This includes information on the results of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) Crime Audit 2020, which assessed the extent to which police recording practices complied with the Scottish Crime Recording Standard and Counting Rules.

What are these statistics used for?

Statistics on recorded crime and offences inform the Scottish Government’s Vision for Justice in Scotland. This was published in February 2022 and sets out a transformative vision for the whole justice system in Scotland. The 2022 strategy outlines how the Scottish Government will transform the justice system, through recovering from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.

Further information on users and uses of the statistics is provided in the User Guide.

This bulletin is useful for longer term time series analysis, and presents a detailed commentary on crime and offences recorded during the 12 month period of 1 April to 31 March. To provide users with more timely data, which can help to identify any shorter term changes, the SCRB have approved the introduction of a new quarterly release of recorded crime National Statistics. These will present findings for the latest rolling 12-month period, of which the year-ending 31 March edition will continue to be this longer term annual bulletin.

The next quarterly release, for the year ending 30 June 2022 (Q1 2022), is scheduled for publication in August 2022. More information on the new quarterly release is available in the User Guide.



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